Mohammed Ali Jinnah 1876-1948
A man who nearly took a united India into full independence and left a legacy of Islamic political nobility and good etiquette to the whole subcontinent.
An Islamist born in Karachi, a city of the British Empire. He was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1896 and practised in Bombay and London within our Empire. A man of great authority, who dispensed with poor arguments, showing no mercy in a proper way. A real Advocate of the old school, who did not give an inch. The law was his profession and politics were his gift and sacrifice for India. He honed his skills as an Advocate to such good effect he had a thriving Privy Council practice in London in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Clearly he was destined for highest office. His politics were constitutional and embracing: he wished to bring a united India above all else, through debate and persuasion in his political stands from 1904-1948, practically half a century of active political life.
2. The nature of his politics
Essentially although Islamist he was first and foremost an Indian patriot working for autonomy within the Empire and then independence itself. He was too well bred, educated and groomed to be sectarian. His political dignity lay in his working within the system rather than sabotaging government by the British. His sartorial elegance brought out his noble political aims. For Jinnah India mattered more than Hindu and Islam – he was a true son of the British Empire in his profession as Barrister-at-law and his political campaigns in India, through the Muslim League. All his activities were centred on the goal of a united and independent India. The Muslim League were his power base from 1938-1948 but his own personal and original leadership crucially won enormous ground for an undivided India. He was rightly called a “great leader” by his supporters and others; his magnetism was extraordinary in the ten years leading to partition in 1948.
At the end of the day this was forced on Jinnah, there can be no doubt. He wanted the best for all Indians, Hindu and Muslim, but his pan-Indian approach was undermined by the small minded. He was well aware of the danger spots: Bengal, Punjab and Sind, where Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus had congregated. He knew the danger of bloodshed which came as he himself was dying of TB (died 11/09/1948). As his strength ebbed India was bathed in a tide of blood. Pakistan was a consolation prize, as Jinnah realised. In the final result Jinnah pressed for parity, Muslim and Hindu, in a united government of India. The Congress party (Hindu) rejected Jinnah’s very realistic and sensible plea for equality.
4. The Man
Jinnah was the man who had practised at the highest level in the legal profession and understood Indian politics from the inside and was prepared to be conciliatory to the Hindu party: Congress. He was a man of real moral stature who commanded the high ground. Gandhi was unconventional and defiant where Jinnah was punctilious and the political animal. He was of such worth his like will never be seen again. He has bequeathed an observance of political, legal and military honour to modern Pakistan whatever its present troubles.
5. The course of history in South Asia
Could Jinnah have turned the tide to unity? If anyone, yes he could have done it as he very nearly achieved that result. The building blocks were in place through the legislative assemblies. Jinnah was out of the swim from 1921-1937. If he had been brought into the mainstream Indian politics at that time and the British ruling elite had the sense to encourage autonomy as a stepping stone to full Independence, whole avenues would have opened up. The British knew they could really work with Jinnah – Gandhi wanted to play to the gallery one way or another. You have to prepare a country of India’s magnitude for Independence. This the British patently failed to do so. Too little was done too late, with terrible consequences. It required the British to call upon the man (Jinnah) they could really trust to turn the tide of history. The British mismanaged India from 1921 to 1947 and the Indians paid the price. Independence was imminent from 1921 and that prospect was not grasped in London or New Delhi. He who makes the proper preparations always prevails.
Jinnah did not stand alone. He had his Muslim supporters and others. Religion is religion but it has no meaning without virtue. What is virtue? Goodness, alacrity and above all clarity. An Advocate and politician of Jinnah’s virtue is incomparable, built on his humanity and foresight. He knew perfectly well the impending mayhem and worked so hard to avert the debacle. He could not do it singlehanded – no one could. Jinnah was the man of the moment and Independence could have come 1937-1940 when he was through the barren years and before war broke out in the Far East. You have to seize the moment in history – those British ruling India conspicuously missed their chance. Nehru, Jinnah and the British Ruling elite were not brought together in London to hammer out Independence for a united India, in 1937 -1940. When that opportunity went begging partition and its slaughter of the innocent loomed. Unity is now never going to happen. A golden possibility appeared in sight, only to be shut off forever. Jinnah rued the day and Gandhi was cruelly assassinated for his stand. Cold comfort for the Mahatma I say, another believer in one single India. The British political elite bear a large measure of responsibility for their lack of initiative and brave leadership. The likes of Jinnah would have supported them, we can be sure, if they had gone for independence before 1940 and a United India.